For sale: Serpentine’s Richard Prince exhibition
All works are from the artist’s studio
By Jane Morris. Museums, Issue 194, September 2008
Published online: 02 September 2008
LONDON. Every work in the Serpentine Gallery’s Richard Prince show, “Continuation” (on display until 7 September), is drawn from the artist’s personal collection and is available for sale, raising questions about the relationship between publicly-funded galleries and their sponsors.
Richard Prince, one of the world’s most commercially successful artists, is billed as the exhibition’s co-curator in collaboration with the Serpentine, while two of the artist’s dealers—Larry Gagosian and Sadie Coles—are listed on the gallery website as supporters of the exhibition programme. The Gagosian Gallery mounted a concurrent exhibition of Prince’s “Nurse” paintings at its Davies Street space in London (19 June-8 August).
The Serpentine receives 15% of its funding from public sources (£904,499 for 2008-09 from the Arts Council and a small amount from Westminster Council). It raises the remaining £4.5m of its annual budget itself. Most of the funding for the Prince exhibition has come from fashion manufacturer Louis Vuitton. Money from Gagosian and Coles helped cover publication of the accompanying artist’s book, and transport and installation costs for the displays, a common practice for museum shows. The gallery denies there is any conflict of interest, saying “all parties wanted to present a successful show for the benefit of the public”.
“Continuation” is the first major UK show of Prince’s work for over 20 years and consists of 32 works. It follows the New York Guggenheim’s retrospective “Richard Prince: Spiritual America” (which closed in January). Many of the works in that show were loaned by private and public collections.
The Serpentine says it had intended to borrow works from the Guggenheim show, but its dates clashed with the exhibition’s tour (currently at the Walker Art Center in Minneapolis until 14 September). The Serpentine therefore decided to “show works drawn entirely from the artist’s collection. In discussion with Richard Prince, the inspiration was the installation in the artist’s own studio.”
Sandy Nairne, director of the National Portrait Gallery and a member of the Museums Association’s ethics committee, says that galleries routinely work with artists and dealers on exhibitions, including co-curation with an artist on displaying studio works. “There is no problem with it, as long as all the relationships are transparent and the independence and integrity of the exhibition curation is maintained,” he said.
The Serpentine says “from time to time it borrow works from the collections of living artists…the Serpentine’s policy is to treat these loans like any others.” It credits sponsors on the walls of the gallery but makes no mention that the works are for sale.
One trade source says that one work has sold since the opening, the iconic Untitled (Cowboy), 1989, for several million pounds. The Serpentine says it has “no confirmed information that any works [have been] sold” and adds that in any case, “the gallery has no arrangement to receive money from exhibition sales”. Richard Prince declined to comment.
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